Challenges in the UK Food Sector - 5 Minutes with Julian Key

We recently caught up with Julian Key, previously Sales Director of Produce World and S&A Foods. We discussed his thoughts and insights on the food sector and the challenges that the sector is facing.

Chris: Over the years what have you enjoyed most about working in the Food sector?

Julian: I love working in the food industry because of the constant change and challenge it presents, using my 22 years of experience to anticipate and get ahead of this constantly changing market. Getting the balance right between developing robust long term strategies with more agile short term tactics to cope with the inevitable challenges.

Chris: In your opinion, what have been the biggest challenges over the last 5 years for the Retail partners you have dealt with?

Julian: The biggest challenges for the food retailers have been the fundamental shift in shopper buying habits. Shoppers have become much more adventurous in the retailers they will use, increasing the number of outlets and frequency of shop. Shoppers have also increased the channels they shop across, increasing the amount they spend in convenience and online, both of which are as expensive to service for the retailers. As discounters have become increasingly mainstream and driven significant deflation across the grocery market, the pressures are all downward on the retailer’s margins.

Chris: In your opinion, what trends and changes do you predict for the Food sector for the next 5 years?

Julian: With ever increasing pressure on retailer and manufacturer margins the food industry needs to become more efficient. There has been constant pressure to take cost out of the supply chain and most of the easy wins are long gone. To enable further genuine efficiencies to be found there has to be a focus on;

  • delivering only the product attributes and services that shoppers genuinely want and are prepared to pay for
  • long term supplier / retailer partnerships to enable long term investment
  • on supplier consolidation to enable greater economies of scale

Chris: What gaps in skills and talent do you believe there are in the Food sector and how does it need to adapt?

Julian: I think that the food sector fails to attract enough new talent and then provide opportunities to develop. With graduate training schemes limited in number, there should be more opportunities for industry bodies to provide schemes. By providing opportunities across different companies, sectors and disciplines, business can access great new talent and can provide broad, interesting, motivating experience for the next generation of managers.

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